A Taste of Lebanon

When I was a kid, my mother liked to tell me the story of how she and my father met some of their friends back in the day. You see, Mom and Dad didn’t go to university directly after finishing high school; Dad earned a college diploma first, and Mom worked for a while. This meant that they were a few years older (and hopefully more mature) than most of their classmates. Not only that, but they had gotten married before they started university as well, which was (and I think still is) extremely unusual. This combination of factors meant that they didn’t really fit in with a lot of their peers. However, there was an extremely small community of international students attending the university at the time, and a lot of them were also older, and few were even married couples. My parents naturally fell in with this group of students and they became great friends. This meant that my parents (who are both white and from not only small towns, but military small towns) learned a lot about a number of international cultures and foods when otherwise they probably wouldn’t have done so.

A number of their friends were from Lebanon, and one of them (or possible a few of them, I may be misremembering) wanted to help publish a Lebanese cookbook to be sold in Canada. It was to include a lot of dishes that were common knowledge in Lebanon, but were considered “unusual” and “exotic” at the time throughout most of Canada. My parents got to be the testers for a lot of these dishes, since the authors were trying to tailor the recipes to a wider audience. Always enthusiastic about trying new foods, my parents were very happy guinea pigs.

Now, I think that A Taste of Lebanon: Cooking Today the Lebanese Way (Mary Salloum, 1983) is the book that this eventually became. My father bought my mother a copy for Christmas the year it first came out. My parents used that book regularly until it was passed down to me a few years ago when I started to show a greater interest in cooking.

Imagine my surprise, then, to stumble upon a brand new copy of this book at the Mid-East Food Centre; I didn’t realize that it was still in print! Not bad, considering it’s been more than 35 years. A quick search online revealed that it’s also available online as well. I would definitely highly recommend getting a copy of this book if you’re interested in Lebanese cooking even a little bit. As a bonus, it is a Canadian publication, so it focuses on ingredients that are actually available here.

Finding this book still for sale prompted me to go back to my own copy and make one of the easiest of the recipes therein: hommous bi tahini, i.e. chick pea dip with sesame seed paste. You can buy a large variety of types of hummus in just about every chain grocery store these days, since it’s considered healthy and trendy now. But when I was a kid my parents had to make it for us. Actually, since it’s a no-cook recipe (all you need is a blender), it makes a lot of sense to make your own hummus if you can.

I based the prices here on the everyday listings found on the Superstore website; you could probably find a lot of these ingredients even cheaper if you shop the sales.

Suraj chick peas @ $0.88 for a 540mL can = $0.88
Alkanater tahina @ $8.58 for 907ml, 60ml used = $0.57
Rooster Garlic @ $0.58 for 3 bulbs with 10 cloves each, 1 clove used = $0.02
Windsor iodized table salt @ $1.28 for 1kg, 2.84g used = $0.004
No Name lemon juice @ $2.48 for 946ml, 60ml used = $0.16

Total cost for 1 batch = $1.634

Now compare that to the pre-made prices, which start at $3.47 for a comparable amount, and go up to about $5.00 for the fancier stuff. That’s a pretty big saving if you make it yourself, and it’ll add up if you’re the kind of person who eats it regularly!

Now, my favourite way to eat hummus is on fresh pita bread — and one of the next recipes on my list is pita bread itself, which is also in this cookbook. But I know a lot of health-conscious people prefer it as a veggie dip, as it’s great with sliced sweet peppers, carrots, or celery. (Of course, it’s vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free too — not that these dietary trends were even on the radar of this classic food.) A Taste of Lebanon recommends that hummus and pita be served with any fish recipe, baked kibbi, tabouli, barbequed chicken, or shish kabob. It is truly one of the most versatile dishes I have ever made.

New Noodles

I love my noodle dishes, so I’ve been trying to expand my horizons by trying out some of the more interesting types of noodles that I can find. The most recent ones that caught my attention were the King Soba noodles that I stumbled upon at my local Bulk Barn. King Soba specializes in wheat- and gluten-free products, which is luckily not a major concern in our house as none of us have a wheat allergy or celiac disease, but I know that this is of a great deal of concern to some. My greatest concern when it comes to noodles are: a) do they cook up well, and b) do they taste good?


Sesame chicken with soft-boiled eggs and black rice noodles


Sesame chicken with soft-boiled eggs and black rice noodles

The first kind I tried was Organic Black Rice Noodles ($4.29CAD/250g). They weren’t really a true black, but actually a really dark purple, much to my (and my kids’) delight. I followed the package directions, and the noodles cooked up perfectly. They were tasty too, with a slightly nutty flavour. I served them with my take on sesame chicken — basically chopped chicken thighs fried up with a couple of diced cloves of garlic, a drizzle of sesame oil, and a generous sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds. Of course, I also included some soft-boiled eggs, which are a staple in our household.


Beef and vegetable soup with soft-boiled eggs and brown rice & wakame noodles


Beef and vegetable soup with soft-boiled eggs and brown rice & wakame noodles

The second type I tried was Organic Brown Rice & Wakame Noodles ($3.99CAD/250g). Despite being a darker colour in the package, they cooked up to a very light green. After the fabulous colour of the black rice noodles, the intensity was slightly disappointing. However, they tasted just fine, although the subtlety of the wakame flavour was lost on me. These noodles got a thumbs-up from me and the family anyway. I served them in a beef broth soup flavoured with a dash of Memmi, with a whole bunch of chopped vegetables (carrots, asparagus, bok choy, celery, enoki mushrooms) and a bit of beef thrown in. Oh, and some more soft-boiled eggs, of course.

I think that my only complaint about both of the types of King Soba noodles that I tried was that they really, really wanted to stick together. While this didn’t affect the flavour at all, this made them very difficult to eat, especially for my children, who are not terribly adept with chopsticks yet. Should I buy them again (and I probably will), I will add a drizzle of oil to the cooking water and see if it solves the problem.

A Healthier Burger Recipe

Last night I took advantage of the gap between spring rain storms to make up some burgers on the barbecue for the family dinner. My family absolutely adores burgers, so I’ve been looking for a way to make them healthier. Sure, tonnes of grease tastes good once in a while, but it’s not something that we should be eating regularly. Moderation in all things, including moderation. So I came up with a tasty recipe that combines lean ground beef (for flavour) with ground turkey or chicken (to reduce the fat). I also use oatmeal instead of the more traditional bread crumbs to bulk up the burgers and absorb moisture; oatmeal is full of healthy fiber and, as a bonus, has an incredibly long shelf-life. This means that these burgers are wheat and gluten free, so long as you pick the appropriate brand of sauce.

To add a bit of extra healthiness, I made the buns from scratch using the whole wheat variant of Nan’s Pan Rolls Recipe. To make hamburger buns, shape the buns individually and place them with lots of room between them on greased baking sheets between the first and second rise. The recipe makes about 24 hamburger buns.

Now, even a healthier burger isn’t a hundred percent healthy. If you really want a healthy burger dinner, you’ll have to serve it with a salad.


A healthier burger with ketchup, mayonnaise, shredded cheddar cheese, and romaine lettuce.

A Healthier Burger
Makes 10-12 small burgers

In a large bowl, thoroughly mix together with your hands:
500g (1.1lb) lean ground beef
500g (1.1lb) ground turkey OR chicken
1 egg
3/4 cup plain uncooked oatmeal (not instant)
2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce OR barbecue sauce of choice
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
Divide the mixture into 10-12 portions*. Roll each portion into a ball, then shape the portion into a patty shape with your hands.
Preheat your grill** to about 400°F (204°C). Cook until browned evenly on both sides (with a bit of char) and until center of burger is no longer pink. (Do not serve these burgers rare because they contain poultry.)
Serve on whole wheat hamburger buns with your choice of toppings such as ketchup, mustard, relish, mayonnaise, pickles, cheese, or avocado.

*Larger burgers may be made, but cooking times should be adjusted.
**Burgers may be fried on a flat top or in a frying pan, but they taste best on a grill.